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Hotel and brewery in Fukuoka turn beer into gin as suds demand plummets amid pandemic

Gin made from beer brewed by Hotel Okura Fukuoka is seen in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, on March 26, 2021. (Mainichi/Azusa Yamazaki)

FUKUOKA -- Needing a miracle to avoid having to pour large amounts of unsold beer down the sink, a hotel in Fukuoka came up with a "water-into-wine" solution.

    One thousand liters of beer has been transformed into 70 liters of gin at Hotel Okura Fukuoka, which has teamed up with a long-established sake brewing company as beer consumption slows due to the spread of the coronavirus.

    Hotel Okura Fukuoka has been brewing its original local beer in its basement since its establishment in 1999 in western Japan, but since spring 2020, the use of banquet halls and restaurants has decreased and beer sales have plummeted. Beer has a short shelf life of only two months, and when it expires, it has to be discarded. So, the hotel turned to Kitaya Co., a brewery in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, with whom they had a long-standing relationship, with the idea of transforming beer into the gin with no expiration date.

    Kitaya is a brewer of sake and a distilled spirit called "shochu," but has been actively expanding its business overseas for more than 20 years. The company acquired a manufacturing license to produce its own original gin in 2019.

    Kotaro Kinoshita, 58, president of Kitaya, was consulted by a local brewery in Yamanashi Prefecture at the end of 2019, asking if there was anything Kitaya could do about a large amount of beer that was going to be discarded due to a change in production plans. So, he created a beer-based gin.

    Even with the accrued technical ability at his disposal, he still endured prolonged trial and error before successfully creating gin using Hotel Okura's beer. Yoji Matsumoto, 42, manager of the restaurant service department at the hotel, said, "I had them make about 20 different samples of gin, using different blends and amounts of beer, and botanicals (for flavoring)."

    Hotel Okura Fukuoka has four types of local beer, but it finally decided to use 75% Als (Kolsch), which leaves a clean taste, and 25% Daikoku (stout), which is a black beer with a strong taste, and added hops that are also used in beer for aroma to give it a unique character.

    Kitaya Co. staff transfer beer to a tank for distillation into gin. (Photo courtesy of Hotel Okura Fukuoka)

    To turn low-alcohol beer into high-alcohol gin, it must be repeatedly vacuum distilled three times, with only 70 liters of gin able to be made from 1,000 liters of beer. Kinoshita recalls, "We worked together to create it with all our efforts and it took us about 10 months after receiving the offer in June last year."

    The completed gin costs 1,320 yen (about $12) for 50 milliliters and is limited to 1,400 bottles, which are sold at Hotel Okura Fukuoka. Matsumoto said, "There are very few hotels in the world that produce gin. We are proud to have created something unique."

    (Japanese original by Azusa Yamazaki, Kyushu News Department)

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